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George Dorris
Ballet Review, April 2011

Roussel was famously a late-bloomer, writing his first mature works only in his thirties, an age when the slightly older Debussy had finished La Mer and Pelléas, and his style soon developed from impressionism to the neoclassicism of the later symphonies and the Suite in F. But it’s good to hear these attractive, more Romantic earlier works. The Sandman is almost chamber music, written as incidental music for a play. Its gentle charms suggest the lighter parts of his 1912 ballet The Spider’s Feast rather than the later grand sweep of Bacchus et Ariane or the more severe Aeneas, his last ballet, with its choral passages.

The First Symphony follows the seasons in a forest, from winter through a slightly bacchanalian autumn. It’s lushly orchestrated, as is the one-movement Resurrection, inspired by Tolstoy’s novel. Stéphane Denève leads all three works persuasively, thus completing his Roussel cycle for Naxos with the Scottish orchestra.

Grant Chu Covell
La Folia, October 2010

With its casual swirl and immediately repeated phrases, the First offers a forest’s four seasons bearing an Impressionistic stamp. After the Fourth one hears hints of burgeoning sternness. Inspired by Tolstoy, Résurrection is Roussel’s first orchestral essay. Four selections from the “Sandman” incidental music complete the disc.

Adrian Corleonis
Fanfare, May 2010

Sound is panoramic—brass occasionally distant and covered—but generally detailed and gutsy. Recommended.

Roger Hecht
American Record Guide, March 2010

The orchestra plays marvelously with fine control and solo work as it adds an English accent to Roussel to fine effect.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Peter Marchbank
International Record Review, February 2010

This is a fine performance by the RSNO and Denève, with their warm-toned playing capturing the big moments splendidly while still finding the right colours for those shadowy glimpses of a forest glade…the booklet contains an excellent introductory essay.

Philip Clark
Classic FM, February 2010

Denève excels in flagging up Roussel’s supple ear for hybrid washes of colour.

Leslie Wright
MusicWeb International, February 2010

…the work has a lyric beauty that sustains one’s interest throughout. Denève and the Scottish orchestra…capture the essence of the symphony in a performance of subtlety and warmth., January 2010

Roussel’s Symphony No. 1 is a four-movement, four-season work that opens in winter and moves predictably through spring, summer and autumn, at the end of which it returns to its initial mood. There is much effective tone-painting here, and some of the brass touches are particularly nice, but the music as a whole sounds a great deal like much other Impressionist-era music (the symphony dates to 1904–6)…Denève conducts all these works lovingly and with fine attention to detail…

Christopher Dingle
BBC Music Magazine, January 2010

Denève and the RSNO have already proven themselves to be fine advocates of Roussel’s music, and this is no exception, with plenty of colour and panache.

David Hurwitz, January 2010

Stéphane Denève’s Roussel cycle is shaping up to be the finest available…It’s a gorgeous, impressionistic piece with evocative titles (Forest in Winter, Renewal, Summer evening, Fauns and Dryads) and shimmering, atmospheric music that lives up to its expectations. Denève leads a thoroughly committed, even inspired performance, sensitive to Roussel’s detailed scoring but also fluent, lively, and attentive to each movement’s symphonic architecture. It’s a wonderful performance, excellently played and recorded.

Really this is an essential acquisition for anyone who loves French music and the late Romantic school in general. Don’t pass it up.

Guy Rickards
Gramophone, January 2010

Three early Roussel scores played with élan—and the symphony is a winner

Before achieving his mature style just before the Great War, Roussel was no mean Impressionist as all three works on this fine new Naxos release reveal. Although the First Symphony has been recorded before, Le poème de la forêt remains his least-known and was composed piecemeal during 1904–06, forming a seasonal woodland cycle of winter to autumn. With each movement being longer than its predecessor, the concluding “Faunes et dryades” is climactic in every sense. However patchy its conception, the result is completely convincing symphonically and sounds beautiful to the ear, especially in Stéphane Denève’s sensitive but firmly paced interpretation…Denève reconciles the music’s twin aspirations to the illustrative and the symphonic better than anyone; overall, he leads the pack now.

The symphonic prelude Resurrection predates the symphony by a year. For a first orchestral score it is quite assured, atmospheric and dramatic in a serious-minded way, and well constructed. Inspired by Tolstoy’s famous novel of the same name, the music is not directly programmatic, unlike the charming movements Roussel composed for George Jean-Aubry’s pantomime Le marchand de sable qui passe (usually translated as “The Sandman”) in 1908. The collection of prelude, three scenes and an interlude was scored for just nine instruments but the string parts can be played orchestrally, as here. It is disarmingly gentle, attractive and easy on the ear. Highly recommended.

Nick Barnard
MusicWeb International, January 2010

…Roussel uses this simple musical texture to beautifully simple effect…The Royal Scottish National Orchestra again acquit themselves superbly—really beautiful wind and horn playing and strings that sustain the intensity of long passages of slow moving quiet music to perfection. Clearly the players respond superbly to their musical director…

All in all another clear hit in this superb cycle…

Robert Benson, December 2009

…we have this superb performance of Symphony No. 1, Poem of the Forest, portraying Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn. Hints of Debussy and Ravel are heard throughout this exquisite music. Equally fascinating are the four movements of incidental music for the pantomime The Sandman written in 1908 about the same time as Symphony No. 1. The CD also includes Roussel’s first orchestral work, Resurrection, which only hints at Roussel’s later style—but it is a welcome addition to the catalog just to hear what it sounds like…Another terrific value from Naxos!

Film Music: The Neglected Art, November 2009

When one thinks of France and classical music at the beginning of the 20th century Debussy and Ravel immediately come to mine at least as far as this reviewer is concerned. Yet Albert Roussel (1869–1937) compositions should be recognized and with the exception of his ballet Bacchus et Ariane (1931) [Naxos 8.570245] he is forgotten by most.

Written between 1904–06 Roussel’s First Symphony was given its premiere in 1908 in Brussels. Poem of the Forest, the subtitle, refers to how the four seasons affect the forest during the year. The order of the four movements are winter, spring, summer, and fall. One can clearly hear the influence of Debussy and his teacher D’Indy in this work. “Foret d’hiver” (winter) paints a bleak picture featuring the soulful oboe carrying the melody followed by agitated string play and ending with the horn. “Renouveau” (spring) begins immediately without pause with flutes, and woodwinds as the forest is becoming alive with life. The pace quickens and the horns and the harp join in the coming of spring. “Soir d’ete” (summer) offers a nocturne of a quiet serenade on a summer evening. The very Debussy-like sound fills the air with love and romance. “Faunes et dryades” (fall) is a lively movement and is the most complex and longest of the four with themes coming from woodwinds, horns, and Spanish type percussion very quickly. As the foreboding music rises it suddenly changes to tranquility from the flute and harp and without notice the agitated music returns again with horns taking the spotlight. Finally the movement ends on a quiet moment returning to how it began in the winter movement. Overall this is an excellent first effort at a symphony from Roussel.

Resurrection-Symphonic Prelude, Op. 4 written in 1903, was the first attempt of Roussel at doing an orchestral piece. Named after the final novel of Tolstoy the relatively short composition seems to be merely an exercise in orchestration and arranging. The overall darkness of the work might have an appeal to some but I found it to be rather dull and uninspiring and I could find no tie in to the novel what so ever. However, it should be remembered this was from a newcomer and I’ve heard worse.

Le marchand de sable qui passe (The Sandman) Op. 13 was composed in 1908 for the pantomime written by George Jean-Aubry and the premiere was conducted by the composer. It was originally written for flute, clarinet, horn, harp, and string quartet but the strings of the symphony are substituted in this incidental music that has a nice flavor to it. I found the use of the harp to be an enchanting part of this lovely music. Listening to the music was somewhat like listening to a soundtrack and not having seen the film. In this case if I’d seen the pantomime it could have given me a greater understanding of the material which was quite pleasing in either case.

Overall, it is nice to see Stephane Denève and the Royal Scottish Orchestra recording the works of Albert Roussel, a composer that many should explore. Recommended.

Produced and engineered by Tim Handley.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, November 2009

Few composers instinctively captured that unique French quality of music in the early 20th century more so than Albert Roussel, yet in public perception he remained an outsider. Having spent his early years in the French Navy, he was thirty-four before he produced a published work, all of his earlier scores he destroyed. The First Symphony, subtitled Le poème de la forêt, was not strictly a programmatic score, the series of musical pictures representing the four seasons beginning in winter. But why, in the name of all that is good in music, do we so rarely hear a piece so full of pleasingly subtle and primary colours, particularly when it is so superbly orchestrated. Spring is vivid; summer shimmers as if straight from Debussy, with Fauns and Dryads dancing there way—just as Ravel would have them—through the final picture of Autumn. Résurrection was his first performed orchestral score. Inspired by Tolstoy’s book of that name, the story is hinted at rather than graphically portrayed, the dark textures smouldering then bursting into the most vivid flames. It is a challenging score as mood changes have to be immediate and brilliant. The disc’s final work, Le marchand de sable qui passe (The Sandman) is a picture of peace and repose where shafts of brilliant illumination frequently penetrate. Conductor, Stéphane Denève, has the Scottish orchestra rivalling the very best France could offer today. The woodwind is creamy and seductive; brass make their mark without edginess, and silky strings complete the luxuriant textures. It has everything to recommend it, as does the fine engineering.

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